I loved making collages during a short course at CityLit: the simple-yet-not-simple task of putting disparate pieces together to make something else.
When I sit down to write I have an idea of what will happen, or at least what I want to happen. Collage starts with a blank page too, but – because it is new to me and maybe also because it’s without pressure – feels impossibly open-ended.
I liked the surprise of the decollage technique – pasting layers then removing elements to create something entirely new. It is unpredictable: some people in the class said they didn’t enjoy the lack of control.
I liked the tutor’s suggestion to have multiple pieces on the go at once, to shift without thinking from one to the next and back again, to see things afresh, to start noticing themes or connections that tie them together. Above all, he said, it stops you being too precious, it frees you.
Lisa Taddeo’s 2019 book Three Women is widely described as a “bestselling phenomenon”. Columnist Caitlin Moran is quoted saying she would “probably re-read it every year of my life”. Now that I’ve read it, her praise doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
As much as I was swept up in the real lives that Taddeo portrays – lives of complicated desire, sadness, sexuality, rejection, power, loyalty – I am fascinated by her process as a writer. She spent eight years on research (during which time she also had a baby). Twice, she moved to the town where the women lived to spend time with them; her husband moved with her. She was present at some of the events described in the book; she would meet one of the women immediately after her encounters with a secret lover to hear her recount the experience. Taddeo describes her role, in an interview on the Happy Place podcast, as a sort of “non-judgmental ghost”, present as lives unfolded. Each of the three women finds her decisions judged harshly by those around them; in giving them the full range to tell their stories, the author aims to challenge the quickfire dismissal most of us unleash on people we barely know. “I wanted people to feel unalone,” Taddeo says.
I’ve been writing diaries on and off since I was about seven years old. Lately, it’s been more ‘on’ than ever.
Not just because, under lockdown, there’s fewer distractions of people to meet or places to be, but also because recording stuff feels important right now.
Countless photographers, writers, artists agree – and so do social historians. I feel somehow happier knowing that they’re gathering people’s experiences of living through Covid-19 – for example inthis project from the Young Foundation, orthis one from London’s Museum of the Home. Universities, archives and historical societies around the world are doing the same, inviting details of the “deeply personal, political, or mundane“, as the US-based ‘Journal of the Plague Year’ project puts it. Ordinary lives in extraordinary times. Continue reading “Note to self”→
How can we help: Exploring how we give, and how we might do it better
The first speaker’s voice barely carries above the hum of the crowd. Even with a microphone, it takes a while for the 200 or so people gathered to notice she’s addressing them.
When she’s done, others climb onto the fountain steps alone or in pairs, reading aloud from notes on their phones. Not understanding the words, I watch the body language: a few hold themselves confidently, most less so. One, clutching a diamanté-embellished phone, tries hard to control a visibly shaking hand.Continue reading “Speaking up”→
Before I get into the next project — and before descending too far down the inevitable path of hopelessness/doubt/boredom as illustrated by Austin Kleon — I’m trying to keep in mind the stuff I learned from the last one.
The last project turned into a 40-minute film, ‘Unladylike’, about women and girls who box. It was the first time I’d made a documentary and the first time I’d worked with my two co-filmmakers.
Mention reusable sanitary pads, and most people in this country react with confusion, if not outright disgust.
Not in other parts of the world. A year ago while in Uganda I kept coming across community organisations or women’s groups who were making their own, both as a solution to the lack of affordable sanitary products and as a source of income to the women and girls making and selling them.
It turns out Uganda’s the home of one of Africa’s largest manufacturers of washable pads, AfriPads, which might be one of the things inspiring others to make their own versions. (Interestingly, the AfriPads product itself was actually inspired by a North American brand that found a market among health- and environment-conscious Canadians). Continue reading “Blind spots and business models”→
I’m back in Uganda this month, and have just finished two weeks of training in the east of the country. In Busembatia, I worked with Women in Leadership (WIL) Uganda, training their four Ugandan volunteers in basic photography and computer use. WIL Uganda was started by a former lawyer from the UK, whose stint as a volunteer here last year convinced her that much more was needed to support women and girls. Cases of rape are all too frequent; many women have been abandoned by their husbands to raise children alone and without an income. Girls are often shy or reluctant to speak their minds.
One year on, and WIL Uganda’s volunteers now teach adult literacy and handcrafts to the women and lead career guidance and writing classes with the girls in one of the secondary schools. Continue reading “Back to school”→
It’s almost two years ago to the day that I sat in a living room in North London with two people I’d met a week previously and agreed to make a documentary together about something I knew nothing about.
Unladylike, the story of women’s boxing in the UK, is still in progress. Part of me is horrified that it’s taken so long; I probably wouldn’t have signed up to this if I’d known what a beast it would become. Part of me, though, is secretly proud that we’ve stuck at it despite (between the three of us) one birth, one bereavement, several career changes, multiple moving-of-houses, one major computer crash, numerous months in other countries/continents, full-time jobs – and a budget of roughly zero. Still many, many more weekend editing sessions to go till it’s done – here’s a preview in the meantime.
Which image of Africa would you rather see: skeletal, abandoned child, or healthy-looking working family?
Most people would say the latter; certainly most of those in the aid sector – some of whom were discussing this at the recent PICS festival – now consider the starving child images not only unethical, but also unhelpful. They’re “not effective”, is the general view.
But effective for what? Fundraising appeals today still deploy the same imagery, and the same language, as they did in the 1980s, when “poverty porn” made it to the mainstream with the Ethiopian famine hitting our headlines. That’s not only an indication that we’re seeing the same problems as we did three decades ago; it means we’re also stubbornly looking at them in the same way.
Just finished a first trailer for our short doc (watch it here). There are a few more stories and characters to be added to the mix. In the meantime, some things I’ve learned about boxing:
1. Interval training includes a spot of chess. Seriously – sprints, to a quick session on the chessboard, to the skipping rope. Turns out it’s not so much about pummelling each other as careful tactics (and then pummelling). Continue reading “Playing chess, and other facts”→